KABUL: A prominent women’s rights advocate who was part of Afghanistan’s government’s team of negotiators at the intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban said that despite the negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the insurgent group believe in regaining power “through military means.”
“(Since signing the deal with the US), the Taliban feel they are the winner, they have got the idea that they are in a position of power and they can probably win militarily as well … which is totally wrong,” said Fawzia Koofi, one of the four negotiators who returned to Afghanistan last week citing a lack of progress in the Doha talks.
The intra-Afghan talks began on Sept. 12 after a US-brokered deal with the Taliban in February this year to find a peaceful settlement to end the protracted conflict in the country.
However, the two sides have failed to draw up a mechanism for the negotiations, let alone engage in serious talks.
Two key conditions of the February agreement were a prisoner exchange program between the Afghan government and the Taliban and the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops from the country, ending Washington’s most prolonged conflict in history more than 19 years after the invasion.
Washington’s accord has given the militants “the impression that they can retake power by force,” similar to the lawless era of the 1990s, years after the pull-out of former Soviet Union’s troops from Afghanistan, Koofi told Arab News.
She was one of four women delegates appointed for the talks with the Taliban and she said that, contrary to the spirit of the deal with the US, the group has “stepped up attacks across the country, despite promising to reduce violence after the release of thousands of its inmates from Afghan jails.”
“Even if they win some places militarily … by violence, that is not going to be sustainable. Now that we have this momentum, the regional countries are pro-peace, everyone is pro-peace, we need to focus on how we can bring sustainable peace,” Koofi said.
Her concerns are well-founded.
According to a UN report released on Oct. 27, more than 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year in the increasing violence and fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters.
“Given the surge of attacks by the Taliban, I believe there are different approaches between Taliban negotiators in Qatar and their commanders in the field. The Taliban really need to demonstrate that they have one united position,” she said.
Koofi added that the withdrawal of American troops was also “condition-based.”
“In the absence of a political settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the troops may not leave the country,” she said.
A staunch women rights activist, Koofi served as a lawmaker in Afghanistan and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
In August, she survived an assassination attempt when gunmen opened fire on her convoy to the north of Kabul. At the time she described the attack as the work of “peace spoilers,” suggesting that the Daesh could have been behind it.
Although a Taliban critic, she was among a group that held a rare meeting with the Taliban leaders in 2019 in Russia.
When asked to describe her experience of sitting round the table with the Taliban and their body language during the intra-Afghan talks, she said: “I am used to this environment. I was trying to normalize the situation so that the two sides were regarded just as people who have different political views, rather than by their gender.
“It has not been easy. We talk about the future of our country, we have different political views, but let us accept the fact that we can be different.”
She said that engaging with women during the talks seemed “easier” for the Taliban after last year’s meeting in Russia.
“I think for those Taliban who were in talks before, the presence of women was easier than for those have joined the negotiations table team recently; They still have a long way to go to accept the fact that Afghanistan is represented by its women.”
Outside the contact group meetings and routine discussions, Koofi said, the Taliban negotiators were much more strict. “Some of them did not even look at the women in the eyes.”
Although the Taliban have pledged to uphold women’s rights before the start of the intra-Afghan talks and as part of the new mechanism, Koofi said there was no clarity on how they hoped to implement it.
“The Taliban have not given any clear policy with regards to women’s role in future of Afghanistan,” she said.
The group had banned women from working and seeking an education during its rule from 1996 until being ousted from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.
“The Taliban should understand that Afghanistan today is not certainly as it was when they ruled. Back then, it was a country at war, people wanted some level of stability, and they (Taliban) succeeded. But right now, people have different views about government and they do not prefer an Islamic Emirate.”